Gods Ghosts and Men in Melanesia – extract III

Another tribe, another researcher, this part is particularly packed with gameable content! Also, kilyakai sounds great for a monster’s name don’t you think?

(The Kyaka of the Western Highlands, R.N.H. Bulmer)

Traditional Kyaka cosmology includes the following categories of spirit-beings, here listed in approximate order of significance in their influence on the affairs of living men: ghosts of the recent dead (semangko), nature demons (kilyakai), the Fertility Goddess (Enda Semangko), ancestral ghosts (semangko) who are generally equated with forest spirits (epalirai), sky beings (yakirai), Komba Ralingki, the “stranger ghost” whose bone is the object of a fertility cult performed by one Kyaka great-clan, a female forest spirit (Yama Enda), cannibal ogres (kewannambo), and minor nature spirits or semi-supernatural animals beings, including tree spirits, echoes and snails. Certain birds and animals are believed to have special properties and their killing, handling and consumption either are restricted or involve restrictions on persons performing those actions.


The Kyaka have no traditional beliefs in a creator deity. Nor do they personify the sun and the moon or the forces of anture, except the rainbow (pwiya), which is believed to be a great serpent in the forest. With the exception of the sky beings, the non-human spirit-beings are only of local significance.

The most important are the kilyakai, nature demons who live in and around streams. These small and ugly creatures are entirely malicious. They steal and injure pigs, shoot with arrows men who enter their water-side preserves, so as to cause malaria, and steal babies from net-bags, left unattended, substituting their own horrid offspring who grow into half-wits, deaf-mutes and other monstrosities.


Sky beings (yakirai) are believed to be responsible for storms and thunder and lightning, and to kill men, if the ghosts remove their protection. They are not conceived as ghosts or ancestors.


Less important in the Kyaka cosmology are puck-like tree spirits (ningkyapen), echo spirits (palinda), and snails (kyanggaroli, yama), whose bite is believed to cause serious sickness.


Cannibal ogres (kewanambo) figure in Kyaka folklore but are not met in everyday life, though Europeans were once placed in this category.


Eastern Kyaka also believe in the Yama Enda (Sickness Woman) a female spirit of the forest who appears to lone men as a beautiful female woman, and seduces and kills them. She is generally thought to be a Metlpa spirit, with special power over forest game.


Most magic consists of spells with associated rites known jointly as pipu or nimungka. Divining techniques, except that by a spirit medium, also fall under this heading. Most pipu also involve paraphernalia, such as leaves and stones and twigs and pianted arrows in techniques to banish water demons, coleas juice and pork fat on skewers to cure “poisoning”, ashes rubbed on pigs to make them grow fat, special powders and leaves in love magic, and special stones greased and rubbed on the skin to bring luck.


The sorcery stones which are waved are highly valued; they are small prehistoric figurines or club-heads or natural stones of curious shapes. Before use a pig is sacrificed and the stone smeared with its blood and grease, and invocations (nimungka) made over it. The sorcerer mounts the stone on a stick or quill and, from a place of concealment, waves it in the direction of his victim.


It is significant that Kyaka nature demons (kilyakai) are specifically associated with watercourses, which are the most hazardous feature of the natural environement and take a frequent toll of human life, and with the lowlying bush and garden areas on river banks, where malarial and other infections are commonly encountered. The forest, in contrast, is tought by Kyaka only to be dangerous to persons unfamiliar with it. It is appropriate that forest spirits are not kilyakai but epali rai, ancestral ghosts, who on the whole protect the interests of the legitimate owners of the bush and menace intruders.


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